Promoting Kellie’s Castle at Expense of Other Heritage Icons


By Jerry Francis

I am baffled by the RM5 million allocation given under the 10th Malaysia Plan to further promote Kellie’s Castle near Batu Gajah. What is Kellie’s Castle? In my view, it is just an unfinished project of a Scottish planter William Kellie Smith’s dream to live like a “White Maharajah”. And what has the building, which was to replicate the British palaces in India to do with our culture and heritage? It does not even have any national historical significance to justify a large allocation. If ever such a failed private project is to be preserved and promoted, it should be funded by Kellie’s own relatives or a private foundation, not by our taxpayers. After all, what could we hope to achieve by promoting it? It would merely keep the memory of a foreigner and his folly alive for generations.

Kellie's Castle

Is Perak so short of tourist attractions that it needs to allocate funds periodically to certain projects? If it is for tourism development, the substantial amount of funds spent on Kellie’s Castle in the past would have been sufficient if it had been properly maintained. This recent allocation for further renovation works, including adding on decorative designs to the interior and furniture resembling those in British castles, only shows that the state and federal governments have got their priorities wrong. An abandoned building should be retained in its original state. Otherwise why not complete the building to its intended grandeur.

In comparison to Kellie’s Castle, the Rumah Besar Rajah Bilah located in the century-old pioneer mining town of Papan deserves more attention. It has all the cultural and historical significance, yet no funds are available to spruce it up. There are also other valuable sites in the state that need attention and with the availability of funds, they too can become tourist attractions.

Tin Dredge "TT5", Tg Tualang

I believe the biggest challenge confronting all Malaysians, particularly Perakeans, is the need to preserve the last of the tin dredge in the country located between Batu Gajah and Tanjung Tualang, which I have been advocating for the last two decades. The success towards preserving this heritage icon would be a big step forward.

Therefore, a nationwide campaign needs to be launched to get everyone involved in it. Perhaps, Pos Malaysia too could come up with a postage stamp depicting the dredge to create awareness throughout the nation for its preservation.

The dredge, known as “TT5”, was designed and built in England in 1938. It was one of about 30 tin dredges that operated like giant prehistoric creatures grazing on the plain of the Kinta Valley, which was then the largest alluvial tin deposit region in the world.

Syabas! Malaysian Chamber of Mines for taking the initiative to launch the “Save The Dredge” campaign which raised RM1.4 million to enable the dredge to be open to the public next year. Of course, the amount raised through the campaign is insufficient to meet the full cost of refurbishment, installation of safety measures and infrastructure which is estimated to cost about RM5 million.

Preserving the tin dredge at the location alone is not enough to draw crowds. There must be other attractions beside the dredge to make it worthwhile for visitors. Replicas of various methods of tin mining could be built around it, making the location a comprehensive tin mining museum with the dredge as the central attraction. At night the giant mechanical structure could be gaily decorated with coloured lights and spotlights to transform it into a scenic “floating” structure. Then visiting the complex can be both exciting and memorable, apart from being educational. It will also boost our promotion of a “Tin Heritage Trail” in memory of the glorious tin mining industry which had been the second largest economy of the country.

In so doing, we are not only preserving a heritage, but also turning it into a major tourist attraction in the state. Various tourists’ related activities, such as restaurants and souvenir shops, could also be set up to provide business opportunities to the locals. A reasonable fee can then be imposed on those just visiting or a surcharge on those patronising the restaurants and the proceeds to go towards the upkeep of the complex.

Well, I can imagine and picture its success. Can those entrusted with the responsibilities of preserving heritage and promoting tourism picture it, too? However, it saddens me to see that the state and federal governments have not shown much interest in preserving the dredge despite its great potential.

Recently, there has been talk about preserving heritage sites in the Kinta Valley, particularly around Ipoh. Dialogues and discussions were held, but so far nothing concrete has been achieved. Even the idea of setting up a state agency or governing body on heritage is in doubt. This further subscribes to my view, that the authorities are not serious towards preserving heritage.

3 thoughts on “Promoting Kellie’s Castle at Expense of Other Heritage Icons

  1. are we creating a “colonial” park at the kellie’s castle site? why is it necessary for more taxpayers fund to be used to land scape the area with an english tea garden, including adding on decorative designs to the interior and furniture resembling those in British castles?
    we need to give priority to our own heritage sites, which reflect the culture and history of perak.
    it is a shame that perak seem to be lack of worthy tourist attraction that it has to develop the folly of an european planter.

  2. Heritage site and tourist attractions are not always one and the same. Heritage sites can be tourist attractions but their intrinsic history demand greater care, while tourist spots can take a more casual and popular approach. Public or private property, contract managements of these places are profitable businesses.
    Kellie’s Castle has been promoted as a tourist destination. Painted with romance and spiced with ghost stories and other intriques, this abandoned dream of a colonialist has drawn both foreign and local tourists and sightseers. Also administered by the Batu Gajah District Office is the Dredge TT5 in Tanjong Tualang, a unique Perak heritage of our world-famous tin-rich Kinta Valley; but, it has failed to draw out a creative edu-heri-tourism development. Privately owned, Old Papan’s Rumah Besar Raja Bilah is the focus of a rich heritage site. The Museum Department had spent RM1-million in its restoration, completed in 2004. Amazingly, this building has remained closed to public, out of the reach of tourists.
    The exploitation of heritage sites for tourism must be keenly watched. A state heritage conservation consultative body can be formed to protect our heritage sites and guide them into sustainable tourist attractions. Mindless tourism development at heritage sites will kill the geese which lay the golden eggs. We must protect our heritage while we explore its potential creatively for responsible and sustainable tourism of international standard.
    Why don’t we stop this Visit Perak Year 2012 and start planning now for VPY2015 to avoid the failure which will probably damage Perak tourism for years to come?

  3. yes, why kellie’s castle? substantial amount of funds had been allocated to it in the past, which had promoted the castle as a tourist attraction.
    why do we need to spend more taxpayers’ money on it at the expense of other more important heritage and historical sites in perak? come on state and federal governments get your priorities right.
    this only shows that those involved in tourism and heritage lack imiagnations.

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